Opening Day is barely two months away for the Rays, and we are all playing the waiting game. We’re staring at our clocks, wishing its hands would tick faster. Well, maybe that’s a bit too dramatic, but sometimes the offseason can feel like it’s creeping by. But, the offseason isn’t the only time we have to wait for things in baseball, and Matt Garza’s no-hitter on the night of Monday, July 26, 2010, was no different. It was the thirteenth season of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and no Rays pitcher had yet to accomplish this feat. No one was sitting in the clubhouse counting down the days until a no-hitter was pitched, but it was a monumental moment yet to be experienced by the organization.
The game began like any mid-season, Monday night game. No high expectations or hopes; the Rays were just seeking to beat the Detroit Tigers. Matt Garza took the mound and came out strong by striking out his first batter, Austin Jackson, and racking up his second K of the night against Miguel Cabrera in the second inning. Garza walked the Tigers’ next batter, Brennan Boesch, and Ryan Rayburn appeared to get first hit of the night, but the Rays’ defense backed up Garza as third baseman Evan Longoria was able to turn it into a 5-4-3 double play. Detroit’s Max Scherzer retaliated in the inning by striking out Carlos Pena and Jason Bartlett.
B.J. Upton delivered the night’s first offensive action for the Rays by drawing a walk from Scherzer then stealing second base with Kelly Shoppach at the plate. Scherzer’s wild pitch with Ben Zobrist at the plate moved Upton to third base, but he would be stranded there. Jason Bartlett followed in Upton’s footsteps in the fifth inning as he was walked by Scherzer and stole both second and third base. However, Upton struck out later in the inning and could not bring Bartlett home. By this time, Garza had gotten three strikeouts while Scherzer had already racked up five.
Scherzer would soon find himself in a tight spot as he loaded the bases in the sixth inning, walking Zobrist and Longoria with Carl Crawford already on base. Leave it to Matt Joyce to bring the night’s first dramatic moment as he hit a grand slam, putting the Rays up 4-0. Bartlett followed with a single to center field, causing Tigers manager Jim Leyland to pull Scherzer and send in reliever Brad Thomas, who recorded the inning’s final out against Reid Brignac, but it was too little, too late as the Rays had jumped out to a lead to backup what was shaping up to be a sparkling effort by Garza.
The following inning was bleak for the Rays as Detroit’s Enrique Gonzalez struck out all three of Tampa Bay’s batters in a row. But, Matt Garza was equally as dazzling by recording two K’s against Detroit in the inning, giving him five strikeouts up to that point in the game. Carl Crawford chipped in an insurance run for the Rays by hitting a solo shot to center field in the bottom of the eighth inning- but by that time, all eyes were on Garza, with Rays players and fans were all wondering if Garza could take the mound one more time in the 9th and complete his magical night.
Garza remained calm as he stood on the mound and Don Kelly made contact with the ball. Rays fans held their breath, but itwas only a groundout as second baseman Brignac threw the ball to first baseman Pena to retire Kelly. Garza struck out Gerald Laird on a 0-2 pitch and had only one out standing between him and a no-hitter. Pinch hitter Ramon Santiago hit a flyball to the outfield, and Ben Zobrist settled under it, and made the catch.
Moments later Garza was swarmed by teammates and eventually received a celebratory pie in the face. It was the first no-hitter in Rays history, and Garza achieved the feat with six strikeouts versus just one walk, and thanks to a double play, he wound up facing the minimum of 27 batters. While no Rays pitcher has yet to repeat this achievement, maybe we will get to see it happen in 2013- with a pitching staff led by 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price, anything is possible.